Suck It Up! Sometimes You Have To Be The Bad Guy

For most managers out there, being the “bad guy” isn’t always easy.  Sure, when it comes to disciplining and employee they have no problem.  But when it comes to having to terminate an employee, most don’t like that feeling regardless of how rock solid a case you have.

Being the “bad guy” comes with the title.  You have to tell someone when they are doing things wrong, violating policy, presenting a bad attitude.  You can’t be their friend, no more than a parent can always be a “friend” to their child.  As much as it is a discomfort for some to do, terminating an employee after you have determined it is the right course of action is in the best interest of the company so you have to take a deep breath and just do it.

Sometimes, the employee will just up and leave…and we secretly hope this is the reaction to make it easier to manage the situation.  However, sometimes the employee will make a last ditch effort to plead their case and get you – the manager – to change your mind.  Here is where you can get yourself into trouble if you don’t stand firm on your position.

Employee Morale

Employee talk.  Gossip is rampant in companies regardless of how well some think they manage it.  Employees talk after hours with each other or exchange opinions via social media.  So, if you are terminating a problem employee remember you are setting an example for the others as well.  They are watching to see if 1) you are a man (or woman) of your word by sticking to what you set out to do, 2) if you care about the well-being of all your employees and 3) do you really hold power.  That last one is vital!

If the employee being terminated has been problematic and complaints have been filed about this person over and over with you yet when the moment comes for you to eliminate the problem and you don’t, it sends a message to the other employees that you are “all talk” and will bend to complaining employees.  What happens next?…

Respect Is Lost

Two things are vital for a manager to gain from their employees: trust and respect.  Without even one of them, you can’t effectively manage your team.  When you don’t stand your ground and act as a manager, why should other employees treat you like a manager.  It sounds harsh, but think about managers that you have had in the past that you didn’t respect.  What did they do, or rather – what didn’t they do?

Company Liability

Now comes the “HR” spin to the situation.  Many managers dismiss the seriousness of backing out of a termination and think “well, we still have a case.”  If you have worked with your HR department on a progressive discipline plan and then reached the decision to terminate after solidifying your case, giving the employee “one last chance” (again) will tell any third party (such an Unemployment) that it “really wasn’t that bad” after all.  For example, if you are terminating an employee for repeated violation of company policy (let’s say the attendance policy) and at termination you decide to give them one last chance to “straighten up,” the next time you decide to terminate them for the same reason flags will be raised as to whether or not this was a serious enough violation to terminate since, well, you let them get away with it so many times!

Some Employees Just Don’t Work Out

Bottom line: No matter how much you try and counsel or correct them, some employees just don’t care enough about themselves to make things work.  As the manager, your other employees depend on you to set the course for the department and keep morale up so they stay engaged and do the best job for you.  If you have come to the point where you know termination is the only answer, then you have already proven to yourself that “one last chance” won’t really change anything in the long term.  Part ways as amicably as you can and turn your focus back to the employees you have that are giving you 110%.  Once you get past the initial sit-down talk with them, you will see that is was the best thing you could have done for both parties.

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Be The Calm In The Storm Around You…

It’s sad to say…but everyday there is more and more bad news about what is going on around the world.  If you’re like me, you are probably trying to avoid watching or reading the news anymore because it is so depressing.  I would like to wake up one morning and hear that all of it has stopped, that everyone around the world is getting along and happy again but I know that’s not a dream that will come true any time soon.

Everyone will have their own opinions as to why but if you ask me – social media and the press are to blame…and let me explain why I feel that way and what I think we all should do to try and change it.

Once upon a time, if you wanted to find out the news you simply bought a newspaper.

Reporters were tasked with not just getting the story to report but they were expected to put in time and interview people in order to uncover the facts.  While the person writing the news piece will have undoubtedly put a slight spin on their story, based on their own feelings on the subject, the aim of the story was to get the truth out to the public so we would be informed.

In today’s world, that certainly doesn’t happen.  Today, its all about making a profit…and for a media source to make a profit, they have to have the most followers/subscribers.  To get the most people to turn to them, they now have to be the first to report on anything that happens in order to grab your attention and not have you going to look at another source for information.  Time is not spent on interviewing all the parties or getting the facts – the goal is to be the first to get the story out to the public…and that is it.

So what happens?  Stories start to circulate before all the facts have been gathered.  In the non-media world, remember we call that gossip?  Media sources need to grab your attention (since people spend less than 10 seconds deciding whether or not they will continue reading or watching a story) so they have become creative with the marketing to title story lines in a way that makes you stop in your tracks and read on.  They use titles that are going to invoke anger, fear or sympathy because that is what will get your attention.  Do they care if they are getting you all the facts or the truth? Nope – their shareholders don’t care about anything but what will make them a profit.

Let’s now add to that Social Media.  Now, we have the ability to create a Facebook post or send out a tweet on Twitter to the general public right away.  For the users that like the attention from “likes” or “shares,” they will employ the same tactics as the media in appealing to your emotions and not your senses.  Add in #hashtags to your posts and now it can grab the attention of those outside your own circles.  Crimes now get tried in the press before they ever make it to the courtroom.

But the worst result of all of this is how the general public now lives…and here is where we all need to make a pledge to each other and to ourselves to not be a part of the problem but rather strive to “be the calm.”  We are all very emotionally-charged these days and social media and the press have certainly done their part to stir it up.  If we ever want to change the world we live in, we need to get that under control and shift the focus.

There is still a lot of bad that goes on in the world…but I still do truly believe our society has made huge strides in change over the last 50 years.  The problem is: everyone forgets about progress and reverts back to the days of anger when our emotional are charged.  Its natural – we are human, after all.

And some forget that two wrongs don’t make a right – you can’t organize a protest, for example, against the police but then taunt them and break all kinds of laws in the process…it accomplishes nothing.  I’ve sadly seen too many of my friends turn against each other when situations like this arise…friends that would normally get long and be very supportive of each…all because they feel they have to pick a side.  Some get so out of control that those friendships are then lost forever.

So, the purpose of this post: How do you and I change that?

First of all – Please don’t be so quick to judge or jump on the bandwagon.  Bottom line: unless you yourself were personally involved in the situation, any information you read or receive is now coming from an outside source which may be skewed, missing information or lacking information.

“There are two sides to every story – and the truth is somewhere in between.”

This is my favorite quote and something I live by both in my personal life as well as my professional life.  Even if you feel strongly about one side of the story, you need to listen to or find out the other side of the story too.  It may not change your opinion…but you may also find information that you didn’t know before.

Second – Don’t add fuel to others’ emotional rants.  Yes, I’m being very point blank here.  Part of the problem with everyone getting all upset and out of control is that they are emotional fired up and further supported by others.  We all know it: when you start reacting emotionally, all common sense goes out the window – so we have to stop that from happening in the first place.

Third – Ask yourself and those making comments: What can I do to change the situation? Everyone will be quick to say what “needs” to change but notice few people will post or comment about what exactly that is and how they can help initiate that change.  Complaining just adds fuel to the emotional fire – shift your focus on what action steps you can take to help the tide of change begin or continue.  Is there research that needs to be done? What steps or training can you see helping that you can suggest rather than just telling the other party “you need to change” or “you need to fix things.”

Lastly – Don’t add yourself to the problem.  In the example of the protesters: If you want to be heard and taken seriously, don’t act out inappropriately.  I was extremely angered recently to hear about a group of protesters that interrupted a WWII veteran’s medal ceremony in Seattle in order to get their point across.  Their “cause” had nothing to do with the situation and was completely disrespectful to that veteran (they had to cancel the ceremony because the protesters became so unruly).  Was the public focusing on the purpose of their so-called protest? No, we were all focused on the fact that these people were out of control and disrespectful.  No one cared what their cause was anymore because they proved that they are a part of the problem in our society right now….lack of respect for others.

To be the change in the world, we are going to have to work together.  And that means we have to get our emotions under control, step back to see the full picture and then formulate a plan to help solve these problems.  Don’t let the media or social media think for us.

And don’t turn your backs on the progress we have made or the friendships we have forged…both of those are near impossible to get back if we loose them.  Be a Teacher in the stormy world around us – not a Fighter.  We can accomplish the change we all want to see if we just shift our approach.

Culture: Do You Define It or Does It Create Itself?

“Culture” is another one of those buzz words going around lately as companies strive to up their game or reinvent themselves.  With the changes in the market after the economic crash of 2008 and the new generations entering the workplace now, the new goal is to make your workplace happier, healthier and higher performing….still all within reasonable cost.

But let’s start with defining: What is a “company culture”?
Basic definitionYour culture is a set of characteristics that define a business.  It is the values and practices shared by members of the company.  It involves employee attitudes, standards (policies and procedures) and “rites or rituals” (i.e. Employee of the Month) that have been ongoing and/or influenced by the communities in which the company operates.

Let’s not think that this is all based on positive influences.  Yes, even negative influences can affect a company’s culture.  For example: Is your company known for “still doing business the same way since…”?  This may actually come across to potential employees as a company unwelcoming to change.

When your company decides it wants to hire a new member to the team, one of the considerations during the hiring process is whether or not the candidate and their skill set will be a “fit” for the company’s culture.  The purpose, of course, is to reduce the change of problems/conflicts that may arise if the candidate does not display the same values or behavior as the rest of the team and so that they can quickly (and with the expectation that it will be easily) fit in with the company and hit the ground running in their new position.

Companies that have a defined “company culture” tend to see employees as a valuable asset, rather than just a body to fill a position, which typically leads to higher productivity and company loyalty.  This is probably the basis why many companies are now working to define their company culture and adjust it if necessary.

But, you can actually create a “company culture” and set the tone or is it something that truly evolves over time based on attitudes and interactions of your employees?  And how you answer that question will determine 1) how you go about defining your company culture and 2) IF you can improve upon it.

Don’t fall into that trap that as long as you define your company’s culture with Mission or Vision Statements and a bunch of policies and procedures that are supposed to “set the tone” for your employees that you have succeeded in setting up a positive culture.  What is put down in paper means nothing if it isn’t communicated and follow-up upon by members of your management team.

For example: You company may “claim” to operate as a “family” – giving the impression that the employees are close knit, look out for each other and do what they can regardless of title or position for the benefit of the whole company as a whole.  But, if your management team goes on a power trip and starts assigning hierarchies and demanding people follow it, then your “family atmosphere” falls apart…and now its just words on a piece of paper.

So, start with: What is your company’s culture?

  • Is it already defined? If not, what are you using as an example to create?
  • How it is defined? Just policies and procedures? How do your employees know what the company’s culture is supposed to be?

Now, look at how effective it is:

  • Is it having a positive effect on your employees?
  • Have complaints gone down?
  • Has tenure increased?
  • Have employee “sick” days decreased?

Next, how is your company’s culture being perceived by the public?

  • Do you have a “reputation” in the industry that candidates may consider when applying?
  • Are you or your employees active in the community where people can get to know your employees better?
  • What feedback have you gotten from customers about the general atmosphere or employee conduct/attitudes?

Yes, it’s a lot of questions to consider but each answer will help you develop and tweak your company’s culture as time goes on and changes occur within the company and the employees themselves.  Coming up with a concept and template that you expect your employees to fall in line with and follow won’t work long-term.  Your employees are that “variable” in the math equation for a perfect work environment – they are always changing so you have to watch, monitor and change with them.

Are You Grooming A “Mini-Me”?


“Talent Management” is one of those buzz words flying around lately and everyone will have their own definition of what it is and how they approach it in their company, but in my view Talent Management is just the upgraded version of Mentoring.

Mentoring to me isn’t assigning an experienced employee to a new employee to help them learn the ropes and integrate into the company quicker.  Mentoring is “coaching and training one’s replacement.”  Remember when we were told to do that?  That we should always be training the person that will replace us so that we can move forward in our own careers?

In today’s job market, there may be plenty of applicants to choose from but the best practice has (and should still be) to promote from within first when you have an open position to fill.  Let’s talk the reason why this should be a company’s “best practice”:

  • It takes less time to bring a current employee up to speed with company goals and expectations that a new employee because they will already be vested in the company and ready to hit the ground running.
  • There is also less time spent getting the remaining employees to accept the “new” person in the role as they won’t be viewed as an “outsider” trying to change things from how they have always been.
  • You spent the time and money to train this person when they were a new employee initially so you are saving that money promoting from within.
  • Today’s employees aren’t staying at companies for years on end when they don’t feel that there is some potential for growth, so promoting from within satisfies their desire to grow while saving the company money associated with recruiting an outside person.
  • Promoting from within will also show the remaining employees that your company truly cares about them and their growth – so you win loyalty points from them as well.
  • Finally, its creates the type of company culture – a company that cares – that will also help attract future employees when you are ready to hire from the outside.

Will this approach always be the best fit? Obviously, not as it will depend on the position itself, the company’s need and the pool of talent you have.  But, if you haven’t been practicing this type of “grooming” in your workplace, you may have no idea what skills or talent are already on your payroll!

If your employees know that they may be considered for open positions now or in the future, you will find:

  • Employee productivity will likely pick up as they set out to try and prove themselves in their roles.
  • Employees will be more open to share their ideas and suggestions for change and improvement in the workplace – up to and including new positions they feel should be created to help benefit the company.
  • Some employees may even seek outside skills training (at their own expense) to improve their position in applying for one of these open roles.

So, as you are reviewing or creating your “Talent Management Program” at your company, remember that in addition to reviewing your job descriptions, recruiting strategies, performance reviews and training programs that you have added this long last art of “mentoring” back into your program.

Exhaustion: The Latest “Status Symbol”

I have been following the work of Brene Brown, Research Professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work.  She spent over 10 years studying the topics of shame and vulnerability in an effort to help uncover how we can find our inner courage and be more authentic in today’s world.

In one of her talks, she spoke about how part of her research work involved going to a popular office building in downtown Houston and just riding the elevator up and down to listen to the interactions of the employees in that building.  The one story she shared was about two law firm employees and their interaction with each other.  One talked about having to work til the wee hours of the morning on a project.  When this person asked the other person when they left work for the day, the other’s response was that they hadn’t left the office yet (since the day before).

While it may seem immature that two co-workers were having a “one-up” conversation with each other, the truth is that many employees today do think that to be considered valuable and successful in their careers that they have to work themselves to the point of exhaustion.

Can we really blame them for this perception or do companies need to take ownership of the fact that they are the ones that created this status symbol?

Think about it – Employers see that the main advantage to putting an employee on “salary” is that you aren’t tied to limiting their hours for the week since you don’t have to pay them overtime.  Many employers have gone so far as to expect their employees to be available even after hours and weekends for phone calls, emails, special projects…whatever is needed.

And, consequently, many of these salaried employees will do whatever their employer wants because they fear 1) loss of status in a management or leadership position if they aren’t working “harder” or 2) loss of employment.  These employees sacrifice family and personal time to keep on top of whatever their jobs needs…not to make sure the work is carried out and completed but to make sure they remain in good graces with their employer.  Hence, working themselves into exhaustion!

Now, from a business standpoint, the recent announcement from the Department of Labor concerning the proposed changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act concerning overtime will play a huge role in attacking this status symbol as companies have to re-categorize exempt employees and pay for the overtime they have been getting for free.  While some companies will, obviously, still encourage overtime – especially if they can pass on the cost to their customers or clients – but the pressure to work more just to impress the boss should find some relief.

From an HR standpoint, we should never make employees feel obligated to work  themselves to death just to make an impression to the boss or keep their job.  Shame on companies for doing that!  Expecting employees to work excessive hours, breaking into their personal and family time, should not be an expectation…as if it is some “right of passage” to promote within a company.  With all the technological advances we have made in business in the last 20 years alone, we now have two scenarios: 1) work doesn’t require as many “man hours” as it once did so there is additional pressure on employees to “look busy” and 2) things such as “smartphones” (especially if they are company-issued or paid for) give employers the excuse they can contact employees they want.

So, how do we start to reverse that?

As HR professionals, we have to start pushing for management to turn their focus off of “quantity” and back on to “quality.”  It has to start with the top down or middle managers will keep that stigma going.  How can we “maneuver” that?  Two ways come to mind: 1) hold an informational session with management to talk about this issue, how they shouldn’t be encouraging it and how it can actually hurt the company in the long-run (not just in financial costs but in employee morale) and then 2) establish (or promote if already available) any programs or incentives aimed at work-life balance or family values (such as after-hours contact guidelines, time off for family events – not just emergencies, paid “volunteer days,” etc).

The point of any program you put into place is to make both the employee and their supervisor understand that you don’t want them spending all their waking hours thinking about or doing work.  They need to know that it is okay to set boundaries.  Once employees begin to see they aren’t being penalized for “having a life” outside of work, the trend will begin to correct itself…we just need to have that conversation to get the ball rolling.

Do You “Motivate” Or Do You “Inspire”?

When we talk about “performance,” our minds automatically go to “how to we improve performance.”  It’s always on the mind of every leader or manager that has a team under them.  We think by coming up with ways of improving performance that it will translate into happier and more productive sub-ordinates.  For the majority of individuals, this is true – however, it’s the steps and processes that most people use that end up not working or even back-firing.

Think about it…

We “measure” performance.  How well or how bad an individual performs at their job is evaluated by a set of pre-determined factors.  We “rate” them based on these factors as a result of our perception of how they are conducting themselves.  We will talk about specifics that apply to their assigned job, segments that they are “required” to excel at in order to maintain their job.  Then we also rate them on: communication, problem-solving, loyalty, etc.  Its like we have some version of the “ideal employee” that we use these evaluations to compare them to or try to mold them into.

Why Performance Reviews suck…

There is a lot of talk about doing away with performance reviews for a variety of reasons.  I personally don’t think we should, but that we should look at re-evaluating how we use them and definitely increasing them from only once a year tied in with a person’s raise.  It is nearly impossible to accurately rate someone based on a year’s worth of performance only once a year…I mean, who really remembers all the details?  If you do something wrong, its probably been brought up already during a disciplinary discussion.  This is why even employees don’t value a performance review.  The only reason why they push to get one is because of the expectation that a raise will be forthcoming as well.

Most managers don’t want to be bothered with a performance review: “takes too much time,” “I don’t know what to write” or even “if they just do their job, then why do I need to go over it.”  The whole concept of assigning future goals and milestones to help an employee improve or excel is lost on most managers.  When they are told to do them, they just want to get through them as quick as possible.

How We Motivate…

Sit back and look at your workplace and even how you conduct yourself.  How do you – whether you are a manager or not – motivate others? Are you being positive in your approach or adding to the negative?  Do you put an employee’s job on notice if they aren’t performing to your expectations?

The #1 way managers “think” they are motivating their employees: Give them a task above or outside their scope of duties and tell them you want to see what they can do with it.  And here’s the problem with that – your “motivation” is attaching an expectation which, in turn, attaches an expectation from the individual on what you will do in return.  That’s not motivating – that’s haggling.

What Inspires You?…

Call it “new-age” talk if you want but have you noticed at up-swing in articles and phrases like: “what inspires you,” “focus on your passion” and even “pursue your dreams.”  Its all over the place as people are getting away from the robotic feeling of going to work and doing the same thing day in and day out.  One takeaway from the 2008 market crash is that more and more people are focusing less on the almighty paycheck and more on creating a happy life for themselves.

When I used to volunteer with a youth group, my role was not to motivate them to become better people but to inspire them to test their own limits and find what really grabs their interest.  Yes, I would give them guidelines and goals but I also let them spread their wings and bring me new ideas or try different things.  I was more the net to catch them along their way.  I watched teenagers who were once wall-flowers that, after I pushed them a little outside their comfort zone, blossomed into passionate public speakers that then went on to do the same for the new members coming on aboard.

Inspire To Perform…

Companies can’t depend on loyalty anymore to keep their employees nor can they think throwing money at them will make them stay.  You are also creating limits to what you employees can dream or create when you pigeon-hole them into a set of expectations or standards to follow.  If you really want to improve performance, take the leash off and focus on encouraging them to share their thoughts and creations.  You may find new methods they offer benefit the company even more and you will finally see that “spark” in their eye where its not just a job anymore, its their passion…and they will WANT to succeed.

Are Your Employees Planning a Mutiny?

Think about this…
Are your employees showing up to work late consistently? Are they more “on edge” or angry all the time?  Are they making more mistakes that usual?  Are their “attitudes” now affecting how they handle your customers? Are they just getting through the day so they can go home?
These are all RED FLAGS trying to get your attention! Ignoring it won’t make it go away and disciplining your employees won’t correct it.  But there is a simple way to reverse the trend = Introduce some play time!
What are the biggest problems companies face concerning employees right now?
  1. Absenteeism
  2. Poor morale
  3. Poor productivity
  4. Workplace violence
What is the common cause of each? = Stress!!
When we talk about incorporating “Play Time” into the workplace, it simply means incorporating some fun into the daily work routine to break up the mundane routine of the day.  Let’s not forget, most of us will spend more time at work during the week than with family, friends or just outside activities.
What will “play time” do for the employee? It helps alleviate some of the daily stress, especially during high peak seasons, which helps improves employee morale.  It can become overwhelming for an employee if he/she doesn’t have an avenue to release the daily stress build-up, especially if they go home to more of it.  You invested your time and money into hiring and training these employees, so why not put as much effort into keeping them?
First argument I expect to hear is: “employees need to earn their paychecks by working the full amount of time” or “an employee’s focus should be on how many billable hours they can pump out on a daily basis.” Do NOT think of this as “slack off” time.  Am I expecting companies to pay employees for time to just goof off? Okay, in a way, yes! But, think of the long-term payoff regarding employee morale and performance simply because the company set aside a small amount of time each day for stress relief.
What are some examples you can do in the workplace?
  • Community Service projects
  • Walk/Run Fitness challenges (sponsor a group for a local 5k!)
  • Desk Massages / Manicure Mondays
  • On-site fitness facilities
  • Company sponsored sports such as Softball or Volleyball
  • Company-wide learning classes….such as Cooking or Photography classes
Let’s break down a couple of the examples to you can see the benefits:
Community service = An activity either on-site or off can break the tension of the workday and build a sense of teamwork among your employees. For example: Organize a food drive or holiday cards/care packages to send to our troops. Employees like the distraction from their everyday duties plus it makes them feel good knowing they are doing something to help others. And in some cases, companies can also publicize their employees’ efforts – so it becomes free advertising for the company.
Early morning or lunch time workout = Ask one of the employees to lead a brief 20-30min workout session that can be as simple as a 1k walk or a weight loss contest. Remember that line from Legally Blonde about working out – “working out gives you endorphins and endorphins make people happy!” It also helps improve your employees’ health which, in turn, helps decrease costs associated with the company’s health insurance when it comes to renewal time.  See…another win-win!
What will adding “fun” to the work day really help do?
  • Reduce sick time taken…including those “mental health” days that employees partake in more and more these days.
  • Improve employee retention. It shows the employees that the company is truly interested in them and their well-being.  When employees feel appreciated – they are happy!  And happy employees don’t start looking for other jobs…even if they wish they had more pay.
  • Helps to recruit new employees. A happy employee will tell others about how great their job is…and others will want to work for you! Jobseekers today know that most companies aren’t using job boards as much as they used to in the past and rely on networking and referrals. Because employees are more likely to only refer those candidates that they truly feel are a fit for the company, you have cut down on advertising and time-to-fill costs because candidates are being brought to you!
But, for Play Time to “catch on” and be effective, the Employer needs to let their employees that it fully suports this new “way to work”.  If employees worry that they will be looked at poorly if they participate, they won’t give it a try.  So, it is imperative that you not only promote some “fun” in the workplace, but let them know you WANT them to participate in it.  Here’s an idea: Lead by example = YOU get out there and show them how to have fun during the day!
Remember: Happy Employees = Productive Employees

Are Disgruntled Employees Really A “Lost Cause”?

Let’s face it – between “life” issues and work, we find many of today’s employees are disgruntled in one way or another.  For some, the situation is temporary…for others, it becomes a daily attitude they display.  But, does that mean you – as the Employer – should take the stance of either reprimanding them for their “poor work performance” or just wait and hope that they will quit?  Are these once valuable employees dispensable now that they have a “bad attitude”?

I had an instance once where a manager approached me soon after starting with the company to talk about “how do we get rid of this employee.”  The employee in question had been doing her job, as expected, but wasn’t giving 100% anymore and was always walking around complaining about how she hated her job now.  I was taken back by the manager’s request to “find” a way to get rid of her…implying that we had just cause based on her attitude and slack in performance.

Because I was raised to believe that there are two sides to every story and the truth is somewhere in between, I decided to approach the employee and have an informal talk with her.  I wanted to hear her side of the story and see if there was more to the situation that could possibly be fixed.

She had no problem sharing her frustrations with me, as you could imagine, but the information she shared was eye opening.  She talked about not liking the position for a while and trying to talk to her manager about possibly moving into another role but repeatedly told “you just need to change your attitude.”  She told me she had offered suggestions for projects she could start and work on but was always told “no” without her manager giving her the chance to hear her out.  Then, her perception was that the manager just “had it out for her” as a female because the male employees that came to work in the department appeared to get the better tasks and projects to work on…even those that were brand new!

That last revelation – and her perception of how she was being treated – happens quite often…once a manager decides they don’t think you are a fit as an employee but you are still doing your job so they have no real “cause” to terminate you, they will begin to engage in tactics to “get the employee to quit.”  It borderlines a “hostile work environment” in many cases and some employees have gone on to pursue legal action against the company as a result (which most managers never believe the employee will do).

I decided to ask her what were the suggestions she had that she tried to offer…part out of curiosity and part because my opinion is that the company owed her that much – to at least hear her out.  The next 20min was amazing!  She had seen a need for a new position within the department that would help organize sales and process orders much quicker…and she felt she was the right person for the job.

So, I challenged her: come up with your own job description along with any training, equipment, etc that you would need to setup and carry out the job and, together, we will pitch it to the manager.  She did and the manager was hesitant but said he would let her give it a try for the next 30days.  If it didn’t work out, then she was back in her original role.

The end result: The employee remained in the position for 3 years!  What she envisioned was possible and the manager even commented later on to me that he was pleased in the turn-around in her attitude.

Morale of the story: Perception can be the devil.  You never really know the situation or possible solutions until you sit down and have a simple conversation with that employee.  If that is the “first step” you take as a manager to dissolve the situation with a disgruntled employee, a solution may be found much sooner before attitudes deteriorate or performance slacks.  If you aren’t open to listening to the employee, don’t be surprised when the start “coping an attitude!”

Sometimes, it may even benefit you to enlist the help of a third-party.  Having your HR professional talk to the employee in a less defensive environment may diffuse the situation.  They are also in a better position to talk to the employee about changing they can make to help their situation or suggest that maybe moving on to another company will make them happier.

A disgruntled employee doesn’t have to be a lost cause!  Remember: you hired them for a reason.  They were your top choice at one time and you viewed them as an asset to the company.  You put time and money into training them and getting them up to speed so they could be successful at their position.  Don’t throw in the towel without giving one last try – a “real” try with an open mind.  You might just surprise yourself.

Engagement Isn’t Rocket Science Folks!

There’s a lot of talk in the market about “Employee Engagement” and all these tactics and tools an organization can use to improve in this area, but the fact is – engaging your employees is much easier to do than you think and doesn’t cost a penny.

The problem many companies – and even volunteer groups – are facing is that employees have lost that “drive” that they once had when they first joined.  Regardless of whether they have been a long-term or even short-term employee, that “spark” they had has dimmed: the excitement of being part of a new organization, the nervousness yet eagerness to learn all they can about their new company and position, the desire to feel like part of the team and that old “giving 110%.”

For a while there, the HR community called this “retention”…how do we keep our employees from leaving?  But the word itself – if you really think about it – is restricting.  To “retain” something (or someone) is to hold on to them, usually using boundaries or by force.  Not exactly what we want to do with our employees!  Last thing we want them to feel is back into a corner and complying with what we try to do just to make us stop and go away.

The shift to talking “engagement” instead is because, in reality, the only people we want to try and keep within our organizations are the ones that want to be there.  Remember that phrase “you can lead a horse to water but can’t make it drink it?”  Well, that’s what many organizations have been trying to do…just nicely.

Think about your own job.  Are you still as enthusiastic about getting up and going to work in the morning as you were when you first started?  Do you feel a sense of personal success or satisfaction when you leave at the end of the day or are you just happy to go home?  Do you start to compare yourself to others more and more in how the company treats or rewards them?  Is this the job you see yourself content to spend the next several years with until you are ready to retire?  It’s a reality check – isn’t it.

Bottom line:  Dis-engagement stems most of all from a breakdown in two-way communication. Employees loose the desire to engage in their job because: 1) things become too routine with companies only rewarding for work results, and 2) they don’t feel appreciated or they feel taken advantage of.

To truly get your employees re-engaged, they need to self-motivate themselves…but there are simply things that Managers and HR professional can do to set the ball rolling on this:

  • Observe and note: Take a walk around and just watch the employees while they are working. What mood do you pick up from them? How are they engaging with others? Are they always looking down and annoyed or do they look up and smile from time to time?  Does one complain louder than the others or seem to get the others riled up as well?  Just take in your observations about what the work environment looks like to someone from the “outside” and make notes of what you observed.
  • Have an informal conversation: Don’t schedule a meeting but rather take the time to walk up to each employee, regardless of their position in the company, and have a chat. Tell them that you are just wondering how they are doing.  It starts right there – you want to make it casual so that their guard comes down and they talk openly.  Then start asking them about what they like or don’t like and what changes they may want to suggest.  Tell them you are trying to get a feel for where the company is right now and where the employees would like to see things go so that you can review with management about adding some programs or making some changes.
  • Have a meeting with management: Now its time to get serious and get down to business. Employee morale does more than just affect tenure of an employee, it affects how they interact with customers.  A disgruntled employee will already be annoyed with a complaining customer and maybe not go that extra step to make them happy because, well…they aren’t happy.  Explain your observations as you walked around, comments you received and suggestions you have to introduce some positive changes to the workplace.  The biggest resistance management usually has it to anything that will “cost money” but not all changes have a price tag attached to it and most, if not all, can actually decrease overall cost as time goes on and these changes become the norm.  Want a sure-fire way to get them to listen?  Talk about the dollar amount associated with recruiting a new employee, labor lost in the meantime, cost to onboard and train that new employee and the potential of having to do it all again if the pattern continues…that usually gets them to at least stop and listen.
  • Follow-up with the whole company: If you really want employees to open up and share the good and the bad, they have to know that what they say – regardless of what it is – will not fall on deaf eyes “as it has in the past.” Hold a company meeting.  Let them know some of the observations that were made and the changes that management would like to make based on that feedback to help improve everyone’s job.  This is where you have to build trust and it all has to start somewhere.  The next time you repeat this process – and I would do it at least twice a year – you will find employees more open to talking when you come around.

Changes won’t happen overnight, we all know this, but don’t wait until you have developed the “perfect” Employee Engagement plan to start working on it.  Those disengaged employees won’t stick around for long and many are already looking for their exit strategy.

Jumping on the “Employee Engagement” Bandwagon: Part 2

In Part 1, we talked about first getting to know what your employees would like to see.  Here in Part 2, we will talk about some general ideas to consider integrating into your workplace.  While there are plenty of different options available, sometimes its best to start with some simple ideas and let the company build upon it once you see how welcoming the employees are to these new “perks.”

Today’s employees want to know and feel that their work matters…regardless of what generation they fall into.  They want to be known as a vital member of the team and not just overhead getting a paycheck.  If a company isn’t meeting their other “needs” (respect, growth, recognition, etc), then employee “disengagement” leads to low morale and a focus on …money.  And here is where a company can start spiraling downward.

So, how can an Employee Engagement plan help?

We heard all about “work life balance” these past couple of years, but the truth is its all about work-life integration now.  Smartphones keep us in contact 24/7 not just with voice and text but now emails and social media.  We’re not just “connected” to close friends and family because we now have co-workers, acquaintances, mentors, etc. as part of our life “circle” thanks to social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. We can’t honestly expect a true separation anymore between work and home life.

So, engaging your employees is more than just finding ways to make them “happy” at work…its about finding ways to incorporate their passion and creativity into the workplace.  While the hope is that these different programs will increase work performance, employer loyalty and even generate profitable ideas, don’t make decisions based solely on that.  When employees feel “heard,” their talents used and recognized and a sense of teamwork returns, you will shift the work environment to where performance will naturally increase.

What are some ideas to consider?

There are so many different articles out there that talk about different engagement programs that you may feel a bit overwhelmed reading them over and thinking how to make them work at your workplace.  When I looked many of them over, I looked for things that were simple but would have the quickest return:

  • Look for resources already available to you…for free!

Many Healthcare providers also provide free workshops and seminars on a variety of topics, not just health.  Take a look at see how often they will provide one to your company and what other topics they offer.  Some offer programs such as: Stress Management, Debt Reduction, Wellness Coaching, etc.

  • Review (or Create) Work-Life Options

Does your company have a work-from-home option available for certain circumstances?  How about Flex Hours?  These ideas don’t have to be limited to just salary employees anymore and employees knowing they can ask when faced with family/personal circumstances goes a long way to showing yours is a company that cares.

  • Don’t leave family out!

When you start planning Company activities, such as Holiday Parties, include family members…and yes, children as well.  Employees generally spend more time at work than at home so it is important for family to feel that they matter as well.  That will help them be more understanding when your employee has to travel or work long hours.

  • Tap into the talents of your employees…do you know what they are?

How many of your employees are writers or aspiring photographers?  Let them share their talents with their co-workers!  Not only does it create a sense of pride but you also uncover a whole other skill set aside from their job that may help the company.

> Let your employees lead a “Learning Club”…be it before work, during the lunch break or after hours.

Employees have talents and interests outside their job – why not let them share it.  Have someone who is financially savvy at playing the stock market and you want to boost your 401k participation?  How about instead of having a seminar to explain to employees why to join you ask that employee to lead an Investment Club, where he/she has share tips and ideas with the employees.

> Set up an internal newsletter for employees-only.

Communication, even in the world of technology and “apps,” is still an area of struggle for most companies.  Enlist those aspiring writers and photographers to publish a monthly company newsletter that highlights events, recaps of projects, quotes from customers, pictures of completed projects/events, etc.  Lets employees see what is going on in the company aside from the people they interact with everyday and shows the company has pride in what their employees do.

> Create a TEDx type of event!

If you aren’t familiar with TEDx, it is an event that basically allows people to speak about a topic they are passionate about in the hopes of educating others.  So why not setup a monthly event at your company to allow your employees to do the same thing.

Did they attend a training session recently? Let them get up and talk about the experience: what they learned, how they are applying it now, what they hope to do next – it may generate additional interest from other employees.

Is there an outside organization or event they are a member of?  Let your employee share that with their colleagues.  Shows interests they have outside of work and, again, may get others to want to join or find their own outside interests.  These side projects are a great stress relief and sense of pride – which helps employees find balance and happiness in their own lives…so encourage it.

> Give Back and encourage Volunteering

Its not just the Millennials (as you may have read) that are interested in volunteering or giving back to their community!  Donating their time makes employees feel that they are helping make a difference.  Sponsor charity events – such as a fun 5K – and encourage employees to participate.  Give them paid time off to attend the events and acknowledge their participation on social media.  It supports “social responsibility” while also boosting morale…and giving your company some free, positive press.

  • Promote perks that boost mental and physical well-being.

To quote Legally Blonde: “Exercise gives you endorphins, and endorphins make you happy!”

> Have an onsite work-out activity: could be a morning yoga class, fitness class or even organize a daily employee walk.

> Have “themed days” at work: pick a day a month or every Friday.  During football season, for example, have a Team Pride Day and let them where their team’s gear or colors.  Have a “Flashback Day” and tell employees to dress up from the 80s and play only 80s music that day.  Let them have a little fun at work!

> Create a Scavenger Hunt!  Want to get your employees out interacting with other departments?  Challenge them to take photographs of certain things in each department that you will hide and be the first to find them all.

> Bring back the “Bring Your _____ to Work” Days.  What ever happened to the “bring your child to work” days?  Its most appreciated during Winter and Spring breaks when its hard for parents to find someone to watch them when there aren’t activities or camps to join, as in the summer.

What about “bring your dog to work”?  Studies show that petting your dogs naturally brings down stress levels and invokes happiness – hence why dogs are used as therapy companions.  Let your employees show off their 4-legged kids!

> Host a company luncheon or BBQ.  Sometimes, a company just needs to shut down and relax as a whole, especially after a busy season.

 

Coming in Part 3…Best Practices for Employee Engagement